Tuesday, September 30, 2008

B-Movie Celebration

Walking through the quiet city of Franklin, Indiana shortly after nightfall on a temperate autumn evening; the shops have closed, the traffic down the main thoroughfare light enough to give the impression that the town is abandoned. The lights change robotic despite the lack of cars to stop. A dog barks in the distance, adding perfectly to the air of loneliness that the town possesses.

I round the corner of E. Jefferson and Main and breathe a sigh of relief. I've found what seems to be the entire population of this tiny burg. The short block seems illuminated solely from the lights of the Artcraft Theater marquee. People mill about the entrance to the theater while custom cars line the street. Across the street a small screen is set up - I would later find out that this was "Franklin Beach", the venue for several music acts and outdoor screenings.

Artcraft Marquee

I have reached the heart of the B-Movie Celebration, a three day event of movies and the maniacs who make 'em. From Troma trash to Spaghetti sublime, the B-Movie Celebration was awash in some interesting fare.

What brought me to Franklin, Indiana was the combination of hanging out with Cashiers du Cinemart contributor Rich Osmond (Franklin's about midway between St. Louis and Detroit), meeting fave director Greydon Clark, and, of course, the movies. The initial list of films sent out in July left me salivating, especially with the promise of "many in glorious 35mm" -- a vague statement that left me a little disappointed.

The venues for the festival were a little questionable; especially the screen set up at the Benjamin's Coffee Shop. I was hoping to see Death Race 2000 on the massive screen at the Artcraft in glorious 35mm instead of projected on a tiny screen in the front of a working store where every customer was a distraction. Meanwhile, the seats at the Johnson County Museum venue were unmerciful on my bulbous behind. But, like Momma Bear's bed, the Artcraft was just right, especially when they broke out the 35mm prints of For A Few Dollars More, Fright Night, The 7th Voyage of Sinbad, Transylvania Twist, etc. Seeing these rarities, scare-ities, and hilarities on the big screen like they were meant to be seen was a priceless treat.

The Beach

Johnson County Museum

Artcraft Theater

I also attended a few sidebars featuring the writers and directors of some of the films featured including a rather enjoyable romp with a handful of directors including Greydon Clark, Tom Holland, Jim Wynorski, Lloyd Kaufman, Kelley Baker, and more: definitely an eclectic group!

Clark, Baker, Kaufman

Many of the proceedings were hosted by horror hosts Mr. Lobo and the lovely Queen of Trash. I was afraid they'd be cringe-worthy cheeseballs but they were anything but. They did a fine job handling introductions and Mr. Lobo even ran the Director's round table for a while.

Other highlights of the weekend included hanging out with Out of the Past honcho, Richard Edwards and family for dinner; talking movies as much and as fast as we could at the local pub, and finally meeting Greydon Clark, the man behind my favorite film, Black Shampoo.

I tried my best to not be a gushing fanboy when finally face to face with Clark. He was wonderfully effusive, introducing me to Tom Holland and talking about how wonderful Cashiers du Cinemart is. I presented Clark with a rough proof of the Cashiers du Cinemart book manuscript, asking if he'd be open to giving me a back cover blurb. He was so agreeable that I hit him up with, "Oh, and how about I run some behind-the-scenes images from the movie, too? And I'll need your permission for those, of course." He was all too happy to help with whatever I asked. The next morning he handed me a stack of promotional photographs, a mini poster of Black Shampoo and a pack of ad slicks so well-preserved that they looked as though they'd been printed only the day before.

I was thrilled to see that the 2PM Sunday screening of Clark's Without Warning managed to get one of the larger turn-outs of the festival. I'd never seen Without Warning on the big screen or with an audience so both were a treat. It was wonderful seeing Jack Palance and Martin Landau facing off in an over-acting contest while being pursued by an early version of The Predator. It made me wonder what forces could come together to get a screening of Black Shampoo, Satan's Cheerleaders, or Joysticks on the big screen...

Greydon Clark, Mr. Lobo, Queen of Trash

I only wish I could have stayed longer and chatted more with the fine folks behind the fest. Alas, I had to hit the road and get back to my day job the following day.

For more photos visit Flickr.com.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Head of Skate

Slacker Uprising

Blah, blah, blah, Michael Moore put up a movie for free on his website.

Well, free is the right price for this project. I caught it back in 2007 at the Toronto International Film Festival and it wasn't one of my favorite films at the fest. Here's my review from back when it was called Captain Mike Across America. It's not much to look at and I doubt it'll change any minds in the election at this point.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Cover Artist Needed

The work on the Cashiers du Cinemart book continues. Unfortunately, our cover artist fell through (personal issues). We're wishing him the best while also starting to scour for another hip artist to pick up the paintbrush for our cover.

As always, I'm looking for something eye-catching and maybe a little naughty. If you're up for it, or know someone who is, please give me a shout.

Past covers are here...

Favorite Artists - Some of my favorite artists include Gil Elvgren, Lisa Petrucci, Mitch O'Connell, King Velveeda, Mark Ryden, Ron English, Steve Blickenstaff, Todd Schorr, Glenn Barr, Eric Stanton, etc.

Timing - I'd like to get a cover sketch by the end of October and the finished piece by the end of November. You'd retain the rights to the art, of course, but I'd be able to use it for promotional pieces (postcards, print ads, online ads). Sound good? Drop me a line!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Hollywood Synchonicity Strikes Again

When I saw the preview for Adam Sandler's Bedtime Stories, I thought that life was bad enough. Then I see the preview to Brendan Fraser in Inkheart and realized that the same story is being told twice this holiday season. There are differences, of course, but far more similarities with the barrier between imagination and reality blending into a "fanciful tale the whole family will love."

Personally, I think I'll like Inkheart more -- looks like a better story and, well, Brendan Fraser isn't Adam Sandler. I don't care that the Inkheart trailer utilizes that "cheeky Pushing Daisies voiceover". I am concerned that it's slated (for the moment) to come out January 9, 2009 and it's missing the X-mas release that Bedtime Stories will enjoy.

Bedtime Stories


Friday, September 19, 2008

Weird Al Interviews Eminem.

Thanks Ben for pointing out this fairly long but very entertaining clip.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Symbicort Spot

For the last few weeks I've been seeing this commercial for Astra Zeneca's Symbicort product. The commercial bothered me so much that I couldn't even tell you what it was for the first few times I saw it. Apparently, the stylistic convention of the silhouetted main character/spokesperson was intentional (according to blind.com) instead of a mistake.

I thought for sure that the initial shoot went badly and putting the subject in shadow was the way of covering up a mistake (or a really miscast actress). Or, perhaps it was a poor way of making this spot available for an international market (since you can't read her lips, dubbing won't be an issue). That this is not an error in production simply means that it's an error in judgment by the EvoLogue Agency.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Jeep - Having Fun Out There

I don't do too many of these posts but felt it necessary to give some big props to my coworkers who have been doing some really tremendous work. Over the past week two big additions have hit Jeep.com -- the Jeep "Comfort Module" on the front page of Jeep.com which features some terrific animation and interaction. Secondly, the Jeep Experience section now features the Jeep Urban Ranger campaign.

There's a clip below but it really looks and acts much nicer off the the Jeep Experience section. This really is a testament to the creativity and drive of the team. Big ups!

The Return of Bruce

Local hero Bruce Campbell is making his triumphant return to Detroit with an upcoming (November 21-23) screening of My Name is Bruce. Be sure to check out his website for all the details. Maybe Bruce is coming to your town, too!

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Stay Sweet - Stay Informed

I just got done watching King Corn, a pretty terrific (albeit low octane) documentary about the Food Industry. From what Skizz tells me, it goes well with the new doc Food, Inc. In an effort to defuse the potential backlash against High Fructose Corn Syrup, a new ad campaign has started appearing on television.

I can't say that these ads are really effective. They basically address that there's problem with HFCS that some people are aware of, they just don't know the details of why it's bad. These people should be mocked and shamed because, obviously, there's nothing wrong with HFCS. We know this because the commercial tells us so.

More than anything, these spots make me want to be fully armed and ready with all of the reasons why HFCS is bad (and it is).

I Don't Buy It

I just don't buy it. Friday morning gasoline at my local station was $3.68/gallon. By the end of the day it was up to $4.04. This is one of the cheaper places around. I saw it as high as $4.19 without looking too hard. How in the world can this jump of $.36 over less than twelve hours be justified?

The excuse being thrown out is Hurricane Ike. I'm sorry, but if our fuel situation is such that a potential disruption creates and 11% jump in price, that's a rather sad place to be. Of course, this is a potential negative. Yet, if a potential positive comes along, you won't see a return to the lower price and an 11% dip on top of that.

Isn't it ironic that gas has raised so much once an Oil Man took office?

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Doesn't She Know?

While sitting at the Scotia Bank theater, I got to "enjoy" the same pre-show both Friday and Saturday night. One section of this included an interview with Canadian songstress Divine Brown. Um...

As soon as I saw Miss Brown's name I wondered, "Hey, didn't anyone ever take her aside and suggest a name change?" Something tells me that the notorious prostitute gained infamy before the Canadian songstress.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

TIFF 2008: Wrap-Up

It's been a long week. I had a lot of fun seeing my friends -- both Torontonians and Baltimorians who made the trip -- but I was really left wanting by the schedule this year. My schedule had too many gaps and not enough stuff that knocked my socks off. Apart from some of the documentaries I saw this year and narratives like The Burrowers, I was left wanting by the scant number of films I saw.

Investing the time and money I do for TIFF can be better spent in other places. Heck, with my love of documentaries maybe I should check out Hot Docs. Likewise, my love of goofy genre films may lead me to Toronto After Dark or Fantastic Fest or something. I will definitely go back to Toronto but probably not for the festival or, at least, not for a week.

Thanks to all the nice folks who put up with me for the last week in Toronto and thanks, especially, to everyone who took the time to read my coverage from the fest. I hope you enjoyed it!

TIFF 2008: Day 7

Not Quite Hollywood (Mark Hartley, 2008, USA)
An obvious labor of love, Not Quite Hollywood highlights Aussie exploitation films from the ‘70s and ‘80s. Short on social context but long on Adobe AfterEffects, this documentary is an assault on the senses with its barrage of clips and breakneck editing pace (few shots last longer than three second).

Broken into roughly three parts, the film’s structure gives the impression of following a timeline rather than investigating subgenres of sexploitation, horror/gore, and road mayhem. Featuring interviews with many key players involved in Oz genre films, their prolific proliferation makes the absence of a few key players even more of a gap. The most notable absentee, Bruce Spence, appears in the first featured clip (Stork). His roles in 20th Century Oz, The Road Warrior, and many of the films highlighted in Not Quite Hollywood have made him the gangly face of Australian Cinema (at least as much as Dame Edna, Noah Taylor, Paul Hogan, or Yahoo Serious).

The lack of discussion about The Road Warrior is unsettling but far stranger is the inclusion of clips from The Cars that Ate Paris with nary a mention of this unusual artsploitation film. Proudly lowbrow, it’s Australian film critics Jim Ellis and Philip Adams that provide the loudest voices of dissent against the films Not Quite Hollywood embraces. They also are a valuable counterbalance to the pervasive interview with fanboy Quentin Tarantino who proudly proclaims “This is my favorite [Insert Adjective Here] film!” far too often to be sincere.

Mark Hartley does a fine job highlighting numerous films that have otherwise remained under the radar for U.S. genre fans; some gathering dust on video shelves and others never getting release in the United States, much less their native Australia. The frantic pacing of Not Quite Hollywood could use some help as the film runs out of gas right when it should gain its stride with the road movie section. This final chunk stalls out, becoming a hodgepodge of loosely-related clips (though Hartley gets a lot of mileage out of one clip from Mad Max that he uses four times).

A good first attempt, here’s hoping that Not Quite Hollywood spurs another, sharper-focused look at Outback Cinema.

Sexykiller (Miguel Marti, Spain, 2008)
In 1996, Scream provided an insightful commentary on horror film conventions. It spurred an unsuccessful franchise, parody series (Scary Movie), and countless ripoffs. Remarkably, Miguel Marti’s film manages to be both unsuccessful and a ripoff. And, with star Macarena Gomez looking like a Spanish Anna Faris, the film is also reminiscent of Scary Movie (of which Faris is the recurring star). If you’re keeping track, that’s three strikes.

Starting with a Scream reference, this derivative mess goes downhill from there. Written by Paco Cabezas, Sexykiller tries to lasso too many genres. The movie begins as a serial killer film (a la American Psycho 2), moves to science fiction territory (a la Unforgettable, Wild, Wild West), and then ends up like a zombie film—all of it related to the audience via main character Barbara (Gomez) breaking the fourth wall in her narration of the story. All of this mugging and overstylized pilfering keeps reminding the audience of better films that Sexykiller has taken from and how good it should have been.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

TIFF 2008: Day 6

American Swing (Jon Hart & Matthew Kaufman, 2007, USA)
All historical evidence supports that at one time in history sex was fun and free from high risk save for emotional and moral hang-ups. That was the scene in the '70s when swinging came out of the suburbs and landed smack in the middle of Manhattan at Plato's Retreat.

Moving past the stereotypes of bushy mustaches, lotion, and terrycloth robes, Plato's Retreat seemed to legitimize “the lifestyle” for the bridge and tunnel crowd. As wild and outrageous as the LBGT scene had gotten, the heteros wanted their own debauchery and a safe haven for it. Like Studio 54 with more sex and less attitude, Plato's Retreat was a cultural institution as much as it was a physical locale. American Swing documents the lifecycle of the club and the players behind it.

Told via a bevy of archive footage, porn clips, photographs, archival talkshow segments and talking head interviews, American Swing is a straight forward look at phenomenon unthinkable by today's generation. Lasting nearly ten years, Plato's retreat had its ups and downs (pun intended) as one of the hot spots of New York City. It featured a pool, hot tubs, private booths, a very public orgy area, and don't forget the buffet! As the headlines read, “There's nothing platonic about Plato's Retreat.” Despite IRS audits, health code violations, Regan Era “Family Values,” and bad business practices, Plato's Retreat survived it all until HIV/AIDS came onto the scene and ruined the party for everyone.

The brainchild of Larry Levenson, the “King of Swing,” the club brought out in the open what has since gone deep underground once again—polyamorous relationships. Hart and Kaufman create a compelling, fast-paced Cliffs Notes version of the rise and fall of Levenson’s Empire, leaving a number of stones unturned but definitely raising eyebrows and consciousness of the last days of care free intercourse.

Hurt Locker (Kathryn Bigelow, 2008, USA)
Told via a series of episodes, Hurt Locker recounts a few of the final days of three members of Bravo Company as they count down to being cycled out of Iraq. The trio of soldiers travel throughout Baghdad disarming roadside bombs and other IEDs. If you have a bad day on the job, you're dead, and you're most likely taking the other members of your team with you.

Fresh to the scene is Staff Sargent William James (Jeremy Renner – looking like the lovechild of Tobey Maguire and Jason Batemen), a real cowboy who prefers to use “the suit” rather than “the 'bot.” That is, he'd rather go into dicey situations with little more than a padded outfit than send in a drone to do the dirty work for him. This doesn't win him any friends on his team, though he eventually earns their respect. James is a loose cannon while Specialist Eldridge (Brian Geraghty) is one explosion away from losing his shit. It's Sergeant Sanborn (Anthony Mackie) that keeps the unit together as best he can.

Utilizing three lesser-known actors, Hurt Locker threatened to be another misfire like Brian DePalma's miscast epic Redacted. Luckily, the three leads here give spot on performances. Moreover, director Kathryn Bigelow does well to turn the well-worn convention on its head that any “A-List” actors appearing in a film will survive while the unknown soldiers die. Three bigger name stars have roles in Hurt Locker and two of them perish within moments of their arrival.

Though it goes on for a little too long overall (running time 130 minutes), Hurt Locker it's unclear what could be cut to make the film tighter. One particularly extended sequence begins to wear on but it really runs for as long as it needs to, and not a second more or less.

Martyrs (Pascal Laugier, 2008, France)
You can't be in a torture porn movie in France without being female and having a bad haircut. That's what Haute Tension, Frontière(s), and now Martyrs have proven. Like those previous Midnight Madness entries, Martyrs is trés pretentious and trés boring, perhaps even being the most extreme in these two areas. At times the audience may feel completely empathetic to the lead character being trapped in a confined space and getting the snot beat out of her for no reason—it's a very similar experience to viewing Pascal Laugier's film.

Broke into roughly three parts, Martyrs begins with young Lucie escaping from the set of Frontière(s) and being taken care of by Anna at a mental institute (why Anna is there isn't ever explained, unless it's because of her Sapphic tendencies). Fifteen years later Lucie (Mylène Jampanoï) shows up at the front door of a family and proceeds to slaughter them. She's convinced that this pleasant French family were responsible for her torture as a child. Once the walls are painted red with blood, it's up to Anna (Morjana Alaoui) to help make things right by burying the bodies.

Not quite a sane as you'd like a former mental patient to be, Lucie has visions of another torture victim from her childhood taking a straight razor to her, causing her thankful demise. End of story? After forty five minutes, are you nuts? No way! Now for the big twist... that seemingly innocent family happens to have a fully stocked dungeon in their chalet! It's even got a gallery of “torture's greatest hits” lining the walls. This ain't no dank mudpit. This is the Four Seasons of Agony. And this is where the audience and Anna spend the second half of the movie.

Anna's chained up, beaten, and fed really bad food. Why? Wouldn't you like to know! There's got to be a big twist coming, doesn't there? That's how these movies end, dontcha know? We've been told something about people dying with a rather beatific look on their face. Is that why we're forced to watch Anna continuously getting the crap kicked out of her? Yeah, maybe. It all seems a bit frivolous, especially when the twist happens and it's a complete anticlimax.

The worst thing that a film can be is boring. The next is predictable. Martyrs is both. It's an endurance test—not to see how much violence and bloodshed the audience can take, but if they can even make it through to the end without falling asleep.

Monday, September 08, 2008

TIFF 2008: You've Been Warned

Did you get his with a balled up piece of paper during a P/I screening? That's my subtle hint to TURN OFF YOUR DAMN BLACKBERRY / PDA / iPHONE and quit shining it in my face.

That is all.

TIFF 2008: Day 5

Adam Resurrected (Paul Schrader, 2008, USA)
A blend of Holocaust drama and magical realism, this film redefines the term “hit and miss.” At times it's an intriguing tale of Adam Stein (Jeff Goldblum with a vacillating accent), a magician with amazing powers who saves a man's life only to end up serving as his “dog” in a WWII death camp. Adam plays the fool for Commandant Klein (Willem Dafoe) to keep himself alive.

This tale is cross-cut with Adam in 1961 Tel Aviv where he's confined to a mental institute with other Holocaust survivors. This section shifts from Patch Adams bathos to Awakenings pathos (though Robin Williams is no where in sight) with its host of “wacky” psych ward patients and Adam as their savior. The hospital staff loves him – some more carnally than others. Everything changes when Davey, a feral child with whom Adam can relate, is admitted. Adam makes it his mission to save Davey and, by doing so, Adam will redeem himself.

Not surprisingly, this film's blend of light-hearted spiritualism and ponderous Holocaust drama makes it feel like a schizophrenic in need of some meds to calm the disparate chorus of voices from Noah Stollman's screenplay and Yoram Kaniuk's novel. Adam, Resurrected is better than director Paul Schrader's last few films (which isn't saying much). It works best as a drinking game—take a slug whenever any of the major names in the Old Testament are uttered and you'll get one heck of a buzz before Act One is barely over.

Dungeon Masters (Kevin McAlester, 2008, USA)
This 90-minute documentary walks a fine line between expose and exploitation. Beginning at Indiana's GenCon—a gathering of gamers—the audience is introduced to three dungeon masters (also known as “game masters”) from distant corners of the United States who lead wildly different lives. The only things they seem to have in common are their love of Dungeons & Dragons, their wild imaginations, and their social ineptitude.

While there are relatively normal people who engage in roleplaying of various kinds (World of Warcraft, Second Life, LARPing, Renaissance Fairs, etc), they're not good fodder for an interesting movie. The success of Dungeon Masters rests on its three subjects: Scott, the stay at home Dad and his dream of becoming a writer and Cable TV Public Access host; Richard, the highly closeted homosexual who runs a highly controlled campaign (he's notorious for killing off his players), and Liz, the young divorcee who hides behind obsidian skin paint as a “dark elf.”

As the story progresses, it seems like Fate is constantly rolling the twenty-sided die for double damage against our heroes. Liz keeps searching for love while Scott's writing career can't get off the ground. The loosest cannon of the bunch; just when it seems that Richard couldn't share anything more unusual, he unleashes yet another tidbit out of his bag of holding until you wish he was a plant—an actor putting on airs of righteous indignation about his players not taking him seriously, his family life, and his penchant for naturalism.

There's little more to Dungeon Masters than the slices of these three lives. There's no omniscient narrator discussing the retreat into fantasy as a common defense mechanism for fringe-dwellers. There's no “known expert” going on about the strata defining Cosplay versus LARPing or the need some gamers have for denigrating other “brands” (like those “Magic: The Gathering” pussies). Even amongst an ever-growing geek culture, the subjects are still laughable. This may stem from their lower socioeconomic position (one lives in a trailer, another in a ramshackle apartment) or from their Geek Pride, appearing in public in costume.

While we see Liz trying to be “social” while engaging in online gaming, the irony of “communal individualism” remains unaddressed. Director McAlester merely gives his audience enough saftey through distance to laugh at the geek boys and gamer girls with abandon. Yet, we aren't asked if these laughs are purely derisive or if the retarded socialization of the subjects is inherently comedic and “safe” to laugh at.

Note to PR Person – You may want to spend less time gabbing and more time handing out Press Notes, if that's what the huge pile of papers was (and we both know it was).

The Burrowers (JT Petty, 2008, USA)
It doesn't take long for the action in The Burrowers to get underway. Before the credits have even begun a mystery is afoot. The film opens in the Dakota Territories, 1879, with the slaughter of some and disappearance of other members of two Plains families. Of course, those Native savages are behind it... or are they?

A posse consisting of Lost actors Clancy Brown, Doug Hutchinson, and William Mapother (more commonly known as The Kurgan, Victor Tooms, and Tom Cruises Cousin) mount up and look for the missing Stewart women. Though not at the lead of the posse, it's Coffey (Karl Geary) that's desperate to find Maryanne Stewart (Jocelin Donahue), his beloved. What they find, instead, is a string of strange holes and a comatose woman buried a few inches under the ground.

Initially, The Burrowers may seem like a prequel to Tremors (which was already done in the fourth installation of the series) but there's a lot more going on. In the skilled hands of writer/director J.T. Petty (S&Man, Soft for Digging), the film is a fun ecothriller with solid pacing, characters, and a clever revelation of its title creatures. With its superb production and cult cast, it's hopeful that The Burrowers will be the first mainstream hit for Petty.

Detroit Metal City (Toshio Lee, 2008, Japan)
There's a fatal flaw in Toshio Lee's Detroit Metal City and it's as plain as the cat nose on Peter Criss's face. The film begins with country bumpkin Negishi (Ken'ichi Matsuyama) going to the Big City (Tokyo) to pursue his dream of being a trendy pop star. Nevermind his mushroom haircut and that he holds his hands to his chest like a boxing nun puppet. He inspires his Pop Music Study Group with his mantra, “No Music, No Dream.”

Suddenly we see Negisha some unknown time later. He's on stage playing guitar for an rapt crowd. The only problem is that he's the pasty-faced frontman, Sir Krauser, for leading Japanese death metal band DMC, Detroit Metal City. “How did I get here?” Negisha muses in voice over. How indeed?

There's no reel missing. The film merely makes this tremendous leap. Out of costume, Negisha is still the whining wannabe pop singer but how he got the gig as Sir Krauser remains a maddening mystery unsolved for the remainder of the film. Where some might chart this incongruous leap into the limelight as the bulk of their film, and others might choose to explain it via a well-placed flashback, that it's never discussed at all in Detroit Metal City becomes such a distraction that it hinders further possible enjoyment of the film.

The rest of Detroit Metal City shows Negisha struggling with his dual identity, treating it more like schizophrenia than a stage act. The action drags though the conclusion is obvious as soon as Jack Il Death (Gene Simmons) is introduced. Can you say “Battle of the Bands”?

Interminably silly, it's a saving grace the Detroit Metal City boasts a toe-tapping soundtrack. Otherwise, this farce would simply be intolerable.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

TIFF 2008: "Celebrity" Sightings

This year's been very dry as far as celebrity sightings. I don't really go out of my way to look for celebrities so here are the two that I happened upon:

  • Elvis Mitchell - He's a film critic, does that count? I didn't know what Elvis looked like until I checked out an interview he did with Quentin Tarantino that showed up on my OnDemand a few weeks back. With a name like "Elvis," I wasn't expecting a brother. And I certainly wasn't expecting that fucking hair! Apparently it's really bad to be sitting behind him at screenings as his dreads are a hindrance to seeing the film.
  • Marilyn Manson - I think it was him. I saw this tall, thin, pale guy get out of a limo today and a woman next to me said, "That's fuckin' Marilyn Manson, I love his shit!" I'll count that as a confirmed sighting.

TIFF 2008: Biting the Hand that Feeds

It's been four days now and I've managed to see only two of the Midnight Movie selections at Press/Industry screenings. This kind of blows. In years past the MM flicks where shown--gasp--more than once (sometimes) and usually the day of or day before their Midnight screening in order to allow reviews of these films to run in a timely manner. As it is, I'm two Midnight Madness movies behind. Worse, tomorrow there are two MM screenings on Tuesday... within a half hour of one another thanks to the cockamamie P/I programming schedule.

I really am taking umbrage with the screening schedule this year. It used to be that Sunday screenings started a little later due to all the "heavy partying" on Saturday night (not to mention public transportation running late on Sundays). Not this year. As I mentioned, there were eight films that just I wanted to see between 9AM and 10AM today. None of these films are getting a repeat screening with one exception -- Blindness screened at 9AM and 12:30PM meaning that I couldn't see either of these screenings due to my 10AM that lasted past 12:30PM. Not too smart, guys.

Repeat screenings are supposed to happen on different days at generally different times. Likewise, if you're going to have one screening that's at a highly popular time, the other screening should be at a "low traffic time." And, with this whole notion of "Priority Press" screenings, you would think that the "Priority Press" screening should happen first and not after the general P/I screening (as was the case with Burning Plain).

The festival used to be fairly "front loaded" with bigger gala pictures showing for P/I early in the week (Thursday / Friday). Now they're spread out all over, leaving Thursday a gaping wound. I struggled to find things to fill my Thursday just as I struggled to find things to fill my Saturday, just as I struggled today to find something this evening to see. As everything I really wanted to watch played between 9 and 10 this morning, there was little left after my 3:45PM show let out. This lead me down to the Scotiabank to see Babylon A.D.. I'm determined to see four films a day, even if this means I have to pay to see something first run! I'm rather be spending my time watching and writing about movies that really deserve the ink but TIFF isn't allowing me to do that.

Rather than show Flame & Citron, Inju, La Bete Dans L'Ombre, Tears for Sale, or Achilles and the Tortoise (all things on my "I'd like to see" list and all things that played against The Good, The Bad, The Weird and Dead Girl) for a second time this evening for me to review, I was at the first run theater like the rest of the Great Unwashed. C'mon, TIFF, get yer head out of yer ass.

I don't expect every screening configuration to work out but this year's just been sucks for getting that proper blend of interesting films plus available showtimes (with a dash of "convenient theaters" so you're not running around town). Adding additional venues such as the AMC 24 down at Yonge and Dundas should have helped to make more screenings available for P/I folks. It seems that quite the opposite has occurred.


TIFF 2008: Day 4

Joheunnom nabbeunnom isanghannom / The Good The Bad The Weird (Ji-woon Kim, 2008, Korea)
Where the action of Sergio Leone's The Good, The Bad and The Ugly played out against a backdrop of the U.S. Civil War, the occupation of Korea/Manchuria by the Japanese integrates far more in Ji-woon Kim's The Good The Bad The Weird. Apart from the title and the film's finale, TGTBTW seems more indebted to modern filmmakers such as Takashi Miike and Robert Rodriguez than Sergio Leone.

TGTBTW stars Kang-ho Song as Yoon Tae-Goo, The Weird. This outlaw looks like he's straight out of the Korean conflict with his ubiquitous earflap hat. He's the fly in the ointment, the monkey in the wrench, and the chaotic center around which the film's narrative revolves. He's got a gang of ragamuffins, the Japanese Army, a talented bounty hunter, and a black-clad baddie all after him and a pilfered map of Manchuria. The latter players are The Good (Woo-sung Jung) and The Bad (Byung-hun Lee).

While much of the film appears to take place in “The Old East,” the presence of seemingly anachronistic Jeeps and motorcycles leave many viewers scratching their heads. Others will just kick back and enjoy the ride which includes a bevy of gunslinging set pieces. The relationship between The Good and The Weird feels more akin to that of Harmonica and Cheyenne in Leone's Once Upon a Time in the West, especially as they're more remote and reserved in comparison to Tuco from The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.

Raucous, predictable and entertaining, TGTBTW is a fun ride.

Deadgirl (Marcel Sarmiento & Gadi Harel, 2008, USA)
Sex with an attractive girl with no emotional strings attached. That sounds like a lot of guys' dream. If that hot girl was actually more room temperature and found bound in the basement of a mental hospital, this might present a problem to some dudes...but not all. The fact that she's actually a zombie might further cull her potential suitors down to a select group. Luckily, JT (Noah Segan) has no bones about getting a boner for the living dead when they've got a good body and won't talk back. He's all about porking Deadgirl (Jenny Spain) in any orifice she has, with the exception of her hungry, gnashing mouth. His good friend Rickie (Shiloh Fernandez), however, has a few problems with JT's newfound passion. Rickie's got his dick in his heart over JoAnne Skinner (Candice Accola), his childhood crush that he “lost to puberty” (and a dumb jock boyfriend).

An interesting examination of classism and cliques in high school as well as when the boundaries around necrophilia get a little blurry, Deadgirl is filled with unpleasant moments that will polarize audiences; either utterly repulsing them or making them laugh with pleasant discomfort. Once the story gets going, it's fairly predictable (some see the conclusion coming from miles away) but it's still highly enjoyable to see it play out, especially after a wonderfully creepy opening. Shiloh Fernandez can be fairly grating (no matter how much he may look like Joaquin Phoenix) but Noah Segan picks up the acting slack with his terrific turn as lovable scamp JT. Sick, twisted, and delightful.

Plastic City / Dangkou (Nelson Yu Lik-wai, 2008, Brazil)
Wow this movie is bad. It starts out promising with Anthony Wong as Yuda, an up-and-coming import/export man who has all the right connections and an ambitious adopted son, Kirin (Joe Odagiri). It looks as if the movie might start to follow a kind of Godfather path with Yuda being sold down the river by his political affiliates in order to favor a New Wave gangster who's less respected among the Sao Paolo community but more efficient in paying graft. Yeah, that might have been a good movie... but that's not in the cards for Plastic City.

Yado gets carted off to jail and Kirin's left to run the family business for a while. This would have been a good opportunity to give the film more of a “heroic bloodshed” feel by adopting some A Better Tomorrow tropes. No, again that might have made the film interesting. Instead, it'd be better to never find out what's motivating these characters and to just make the film look interesting rather than be interesting. Had the entire movie been the few minutes of experimental digital work that director Nelson Yu Lik-wai employs scattershot, it would have been effective. As it stands, the narrative feels as if someone lost a few pages out of the script (say one page for every eight) and no one bothered to worry about it. The show must go on.

The movie takes as many twists and turns as the Amazon and makes about as much sense as the ponderous finale about “all things return to the river.” It's interesting when it's experimental but sucks when it's a narrative. If you want to be cool, pretend you understand it and talk loudly about it at your next hipster party.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Escalator to DEATH

TIFF 2008: The Truth About Canadian Films

It's a fact: Most people would rather eat their own children than see a Canadian Film.*

Miraculously, there are not one but two Canadian films at this year's festival that I not only "wouldn't mind" seeing but actually want to see. The only thing is... I can't see either of them. They're both playing against other films which I want to see more. So, here's hoping that Real Time and Pontypool find their way a few hundred miles West and cross into the Detroit area.

*Exceptions made for Guy Maddin, John Paizs, and David Cronenberg films (and a few others). I once ate a neighbor's child when just threatened to have to watch an Atom Egoyan film. If I see that chick with the thick eyebrows one more time... (shaking fist at sky).

TIFF 2008: Walkout Count - 3

Adding to the walkout count came Burning Plain (there's a plane in it that crashes... but it doesn't catch fire). Once I figured out the "trick" of the narrative, the film turned into another "Lifetime Drama."

And, number three walkout was 7915 km. I expected a documentary about a race across Africa. What I got was interviews with people who saw the race. Dude, I want to see cars tearing ass across the desert... I don't care about your camel.

Afterwards there was little else I wanted to see today (compared to the eight films tomorrow that I want to see that all start between 9AM and 10AM). I tried to get into $5 A Day with Skizz but was told that the situation for getting in via the Rush Line was pretty much hopeless. Instead, I enjoyed Hamlet 2. It's not a great film but it was a nice parody of the "feel good indie" kind of crap that usually gets the hype at Sundance.

TIFF 2008: Day 3

Witch Hunt (Dana Nachman & Don Hardy Jr, 2008, USA)
Where some documentaries attempt an unobjective approach to subject matters, these wishy washy works are far less effective than their unfair and unbalanced brethren. Rather than playing to the illusion of subjective neutrality, far more effective documentaries present all sides of an issue while clearly adopting a viewpoint, one the filmmakers feel is the “right” one.

From its inflammatory title, Witch Hunt pulls no punches in portraying a paranoia present in the Kern County, California of the 1980s where at least a dozen people were unjustly accused and convicted of child molestation. The ten subjects in Dana Nachman and Don Hardy Jr's film were charged with hundreds of counts of molestation and sentenced to over a thousand years in prison. This apparent plague of molestation began after newly elected District Attorney Ed Jagels—running on a “tough on crime” platform—took office.

Rather than spark concern over the repeating patter of railroading these middle/lower class parents, the public—fed by a complacent media—merely roiled with fear. It wasn't until these alleged molesters were behind bars and a fresh wave of accusations, far more heinous than the last, garnered attention from the California Attorney General. As with so many wild tales, the new accusations devolved into fantasies including human sacrifice and dime store Satanism. The CA AG found that Kern County investigation/interrogation techniques were less than ideal, paving the way for overturning the previous spate of convictions. This less easier said than done. While the innocent wasted in prison, their lives ripped apart, the “victims” of their “crimes” began to feel the effects of being instruments of cowboy justice.

Witch Hunt is the film that The Jaundiced Eye and Capturing the Friedmans so desperately wanted to be. Rather than asking open-ended questions, the film provides answers thus painting a vivid portrait of political maneuvering at the price of civil liberty.

JCVD (Mabrouk El Mechri, 2008, Belgium)
A highly engaging experiment in self-reflexivity, this film continues to prove that “The Muscles from Brussels” has a keen sense of humor about his screen persona. The film opens with any Van Damme fan's wet dream—a one-take scene of total Van Dammage wherein Van Damme destroys an army, rescues a prisoner, and kicks his way through scores of enemy soldiers. This opening also underscores the problems of the action star. Credited as “the man who brought John Woo to America” via Hard Target, Van Damme's subsequent films have been multinational lower-tier efforts with nothing approaching the promise Van Damme expressed in the early '90s.

The film finds Van Damme struggling for artistic credibility, cash, and his daughter. She's embarrassed by her dad and would rather live with her mother. Returning to Brussels, he gets caught in the crossfire of a bank robbery, suddenly plunging him into some all-too-familiar action film territory.

Told via a fractured time structure that continually shatters into smaller pieces, the film works as a cohesive whole. JCVD boasts a washed-out, dirty color palette which helps reflect our hero's drab mood (though does little to keep the English subtitles from disappearing into overexposed areas of the screen). Those surprised by Van Damme's acting chops must not be familiar with Time Cop. Indeed, JCVD allows Van Damme to flex his inner thespian and kick some emotional butt.

Burning Plain (Guillermo Arriaga, 2008, USA)
At the crux of Guillermo Arriaga's Burning Plain is a formidable performance by Charlize Theron. She plays Sylvia / Mariana, a damaged woman bent on self-destruction and filled with self-loathing. She sleeps with any man that crosses her path when she's not working as a sommelier / hostess at a posh oceanside restaurant where the roiling water reflects her inner turmoil.

Told as a series of flashbacks in three different time frames cross-cut with "present day" Portland, the narrative is a puzzle box. Once the box is assembled, however, the game is over and the film becomes just another box into which are placed the kind of performances guaranteed to garner Oscar nominations with themes sure to titillate the Oprah crowd.

Often Burning Plain felt like it was based on a book where the winding timeline would have served the narrative rather than the opposite. As it is, this melodrama could easily have been a Hallmark movie of the week. It's far more plain than burning.

Friday, September 05, 2008

TIFF 2008: Walkout Count - 1

So far I've only walked out of one film, Los Paranoicos / The Paranoids. This movie was a little too self-reflexive for me with its hapless protagonist working on a script during his kooky life. After about twenty minutes I started ignoring the subtitles to see if I could keep up with the dialogue based on my knowledge of Spanish. After ten more minutes, even that bored me. I doubt much more happened in the film.

TIFF 2008: Day 2

Sauna (Antti-Jussi Annila, 2008, Finland)
A group of Swedes and Russians journey through the wilderness, marking a new border between their countries after a long, bloody war. Brothers Erik and Knut Spore comprise the Finnish team. Erik (Ville Virtanen) has bloodied his hands with seventy three men, women and children as a soldier while his brother (Tommi Eronen) was away at University.

Visions of a helpless farm girl plague Knut. He sees her as a J-Horror apparition; all long hair and wetness. The watery spirit plays into the elemental themes of the film with frequent discussions of fire used to purge sin and water to wash it away. Knut attempts to rid himself of his visions in the hot waters of the titular sauna which stands next to the strange village the group discovers in the middle of an expansive swamp.

The featureless facade has stood in the swamp since time immemorial, predating any known prior inhabitants of the village which is now populated with seventy three souls. The locale serves as Perdition. It's a place of ancient evil where statues bleed and men claw at their own eyes to avoid terrible visions.

This film marks a surprising comeback for director Annila whose Jade Warrior was seen as a pale imitation of Chinese chop sockey (while some accuse Sauna as being too close to Tarkovsky's Stalker). Expert pacing keeps Sauna moving at a good clip, surfacing the scares frequently while never ceasing to build the central terror to which the thrills cleave.

Religulous (Larry Charles, 2008, USA)
Winner of the “Most Mispronounced American Film” award, Religulous is a comedic documentary which pokes fun at the ever present pink elephant of taboo conversation, organized religion. Concentrating primarily on those kooky Christians, director Larry Charles takes a more direct approach to satirizing American insanity then his previous effort Borat. Charles employs outspoken comedian Bill Maher to eloquently skewer religion as the opiate and destroyer of people.

Often akin to shooting fish in a barrel, Maher finds much at which to shake his head in desperation as he discusses faith, accuracy, and morality with scary hard core Christians. Highlights include a visit to a truck driver chapel, a trip to Orlando, Florida's Holy Land Experience, and a tour of the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky. Maher waxes about the “shamelessly inventive” Christianity to which so many ascribe; a faith sullied by superstitions and based on discordant, antiquated texts.

Briefly touching on sects such as Mormonism and Scientology (both played for tremendous laughs on episodes of South Park), other cults such as Pentecostals were sadly absent. Who doesn't like a good “proving your faith by handling snakes” scene? Other missed opportunities include a discussion of transubstantiation, more talk of the Biblical definition of “abomination,” churches being exempt from taxation (in a country built upon the separation of Church and State), and mysterious apparitions of saintly faces in oil stains and grilled cheese sandwiches.

The film falters when it leaves the confines of the United States and briefly examines Judaism and Islam in Europe and the Holy Land (an entire documentary could be made about the “Muhammad comics” alone). This lack of focus is forgivable, but an unfortunate misstep. America is a comedic treasure trove with all manner of religious nut falling from trees without the slightest shaking.

A good companion piece to Hell House, Jesus Camp, and For the Bible Tells Me So, this decrying of backwards thinking could be turned into a weekly series without much effort!

Appaloosa (Ed Harris, 2008, USA)
The Western has enjoyed a resurgence over the last few years with notable entires including The Proposition and 3:10 to Yuma. Based on a book by Robert B. Parker (Spenser for Hire, Appaloosa really works well when it avoids pilfering from Western progenitors.

The story of two roving lawmen, Virgil Cole (Ed Harris) and Everett Hitch (Viggo Mortensen), these two blue-eyed gunmen share an endearing banter with Everett always helping to expand Virgil's vocabulary. The pair take charge of Appaloosa, NM, where local cattle baron, Randall Bragg (Jeremy Irons), has started to go rogue. He killed the last sheriff rather than let two of his men face the Law.

The film soon comes to a screeching halt with the appearance of Allison French. Played by Renee Zellweger with all the squint and shiny face she can muster, the actress seems to be channeling Shirley MacLaine from Two Mules for Sister Sara. Allison claims to be a widow (and she probably is), but she's really a society whore, hungry for power and prestige. With a better script and better actress, her part could have been far more interesting. As it stands, she's a damper on the action.

Only when Allison serves as a damsel in distress is her character effective. Here Appaloosa charges back along as a heroic and slightly introspective film. However, the momentum abruptly ends about a half hour before the movie concludes, wrapping up with a long-winded third act.

Somewhere in Appaloosa are elements to a far better film.

TIFF 2008: Day 1

A couple early reviews from TIFF!

RockNRolla (Guy Ritchie, 2008, UK)
After torturing audiences with unnecessary remake of Swept Away and metaphysical mobster flick Revolver, some feared that Guy Ritche's once-promising career had nose-dived into the shitter. Recently removed from his creative albatross, a Madonna-free Ritchie appears to be back on his game, exerting his master once again over the London Underworld story.

The perfect companion to Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch (some would claim they're fairly much the same film), RockNRolla is a fast-paced journey down a swirling drain. The murky bathwater of classic London gangsters flowing out of the pipes to make way for a new breed of criminal; the cruelly calculating and seemingly unstoppable Eastern Bloc. Told as a series of spirally deals, bargains, and double-crosses, all roads lead to the titular “Rock and Roller,” Johnny Quid (Toby Kebbell), a free-floating bit of anarchic flotsam that gums up the works of his father's formerly flawless reign.

Johnny's daddy, mob king Lenny Cole (Tom Wilkinson), is the Old Guard. He's the top dog in pack of thieves. He keeps things running smoothly by fucking over anyone that might get uppity. Despite his hatred of “immigrants” (a term for anyone not WASP enough for him), he becomes bedfellows with Uri (Karel Roden), the Russian real estate mogul hoping to build in Lenny's London.

Also dragged into the depths are “The Wild Bunch,” a loose group of ankle biters lead by One Two (Gerald Butler). Looking for the quick buck when their plans for the long dollar go south (thanks to Lenny), they become mired in the machinations of Uri's lovely accountant, Stella (Thandie Newton). An art lover with a sweet tooth for subterfuge, Stella is another wild card in Lenny's last hand.

The only sour note of the film stems from its apparent protagonist, Archie (Mark Strong). Sporadically narrating the tale, it often feels like this role was written for Jason Statham. Perhaps the actor was still stinging from Revolver and refused to wear any more bad hair pieces (as Strong does throughout RockNRolla).

Otherwise, the cast is superb, gnawing through Ritchie's philosophical tough guy patter with style. It's ironic to see Jeremy Piven along for the ride as Johnny Quid's former music producer. Piven's presence seems an acknowledgment of a film that sated Ritchie fans while the auteur was in his slump, Joe Carnahan's Smokin' Aces.

Ghost Town (David Koepp, 2008, USA)
The dead have great careers. Popularized by the Topper films/television series and regaining new ground with Ghost, lingering spirits have flourished over the last decade. Owing a debt to The Sixth Sense, television (Dead Like Me, Six Feet Under, Dead Last, The Ghost Whisperer, Medium, Raines) and films have been frequently playing hosts to ghosts, as if to remind we, the living, to stop and smell the roses. Or, perhaps they're reminders of history not yet understood and wrongs not yet righted.

Ghost Town is filled with such armchair psychology and patently predictable moments. The story of misanthrope dentist Bertram Pincus (Ricky Gervais), his brief experience with death leaves him able to see ghosts. Pincus is a modern day Ebeneezer Scrooge, beset by an undead Greg Kinnear – could there be a worse fate?

Kinnear plays Frank Herlihy, a two-timing bastard who hopes to break up his widow's new relationship. Fate has placed Gwen Herlihy (Tea Leoni) in the same apartment building as Pincus in a script rife with such coincidences. Soon Pincus and the Herlihys are acting out scenes from Ghost and The Frighteners (with a little The Man with the Screaming Brain thrown in for good measure).

If not for the blithe delivery of Gervais, the film would shatter into the pieces from which it was pilfered. As it stands, he keeps this Frankenstein Monster shambling around for its 103-minute run time, despite Kinnear's wry grin and a plague of montages set to sappy folk songs

Thursday, September 04, 2008

TIFF Report: Preamble

Four hours in a car, three hours on foot as I walked through the city of Toronto in search of the Sutton Place Hotel (not staying there, it's the HQ for the fest's press office) and sustenance. My feet took me to an old haunt where I scoured the program guide to make sure I wasn't missing anything that looked particularly tantalizing. Once I found these potential gems, I tried to wedge them into my pending schedule and sacrificed a few films in the process.

Today has the potential of being a wash in so much as the screening schedule is light and filled with a number of movies I could pass on. I hope they pleasantly surprise me.

Off to the races...

Monday, September 01, 2008

Albert Pyun Goes to Hell

In a surprising move, Albert Pyun is revisiting the 1984 film Streets of Fire with his latest flick, Road to Hell. This seems like an incredibly unusual move to me; making a sequel to a critically condemned Walter Hill exercise in style and Steinman. Either this is another wrong-headed turn in an already maligned career by Pyun or an incredibly ballsy tribute to a misunderstood film. What seems really ballsy is that I have yet to read Hill's reaction to the use of his characters in Pyun's work.

Utilizing green screen to provide the scenario with an unreal setting (and cut costs), the production seems somewhat similar to Francis Ford Coppola's studio-bound fantasy One From the Heart or, more accurately, like Robert Rodriguez's Sin City which has left a definite mark on the artwork for Road to Hell.

Sin City meets Road to Hell

I'm not a huge fan of Streets of Fire but I imagine that seeing it a few times on cable in the '80s might have made a difference. I didn't see Hill's film until just a few years ago. For me, it didn't stand the test of time.

I have a love/hate relationship with Pyun. When he's on, the guy's brilliant (Brain Smasher: A Love Story), when he's not, it's crap city (Alien from L.A.). I impatiently await Road to Hell to see what Pyun can do with Hill's work.